Care minister ‘understands nurses’ concerns’ over bursary

Caroline Dinenage fields questions at QNI conference over consequences of new loans system

Care minister Caroline Dinenage. Picture: PA

Care minister Caroline Dinenage told a nursing conference she understands concerns over the removal of the student bursary, but added it is beyond her remit to reinstate it.

Ms Dinenage, responding to questions at the Queen’s Nursing Institute conference over the scrapping of the bursary in England, indicated her advisers and said: ‘It is way beyond my sphere of influence, but there are people here taking vigorous notes.’

Since student loans replaced the bursary in England last September, around 1,000 fewer nursing students have enrolled on preregistration nursing degree courses.

Golden hellos

In Scotland and Wales, where the bursary remains in place, student numbers have increased.

Ms Dinenage fielded questions from the conference in London after making a speech in which she championed plans for £10,000 golden hellos for postgraduate district nursing courses.

Keele University nursing lecturer Andrew Finney told the minister: ‘I was really keen to hear about your plans for developing the workforce – my advice would be you cannot develop an already diminished and stretched workforce. Please bring back the student nurse bursary.’

Strategy defended

The comment prompted cheers and applause, and after responding to it Ms Dinenage defended the government's recruitment strategy, mentioning nursing associates and apprenticeships, and said there should be a focus on bringing people back into nursing.

In a separate panel session that included NHS Improvement’s executive director of nursing Ruth May, one nurse said that ‘the evidence for taking away the bursary was extremely flimsy’ and said she was worried about recruitment, especially in learning disability and mental health nursing.

Responding, Ms May asked people to submit their views on the bursary to NHS England’s consultation on the long-term plan for the NHS, which closes on 30 September.

Student finance quandary

She added: ‘I am particularly worried about learning disabilities. We have seen a cliff edge on that.

‘I believe the new chief nursing officer for England needs to be very articulate about what the future of learning disability nursing is as a profession.’

Later, Council of Deans of Health chair Brian Webster-Henderson said there was a quandary between a student loan not being suitable for all and the government being unable to afford enough bursaries for the number of nurses needed.

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